HomeoldTakeaways from the UCSF Abortion “Turnaway” Study

Takeaways from the UCSF Abortion “Turnaway” Study

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Conclusion: How Bias Can Tilt Results

Editor’s note: As noted in Parts One through Four, researchers the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) conducted a five year “prospective longitudinal” study beginning in 2008 looking at the repercussions of a woman being “turned away” from an abortion clinic.  According to released summaries of the study, participating clinics turned away about 1% of abortion seekers.

While the lack of a formal published study makes it difficult to do a full analysis, we do know a few details from press coverage, P.R. releases from the website, and conference presentation summaries.

In Part Four we explained the ideological background of USCF: “If Planned Parenthood is America’s abortion chain and the Guttmacher Institute its source of statistics, then UCSF has long been the nation’s abortion training academy. “ Once you understand the commitments of the researchers, led by Diana Greene Foster, it casts a whole new light on the study and their results.

The researchers claim that their study– in contrast to the “biased” and “distorted” studies of those who have an “agenda of making abortion illegal and inaccessible”– “uses appropriate comparison groups.” In fact it is important to note that the women in the UCSF study were not a random sample.

UCSF interviewers  made contact with these women through the clinics where they had gone seeking abortions. This means, at a minimum, that these women were at least initially predisposed to see abortion as an appropriate response to their circumstances.

Researchers followed these women for as much as a year or more, building some sort of relationship. Unless the researchers hid their aims, the women had to have a sense of what outcomes their academic minders were looking for. And it is hard to believe that this didn’t color the results. (As a matter of fact, the UCSF team says that interviewers spoke with prospective participants by phone “who informed them of the study’s purpose and risks and benefits.)

These researchers would be anxious to find results indicating that women who aborted were happy with their decisions and pleased with responses indicating their recovery was short, their careers on track, and their home life peaceful. It is not difficult to imagine that they probed the women “denied” abortions more deeply, looking for evidence of physical, psychological, and social issues.

Even if the responses of the women were their own, the tendency to try to “please the researcher” is difficult to squelch entirely (women in the study were in fact given $50 gift cards to a large retail store after every interview).   Given the conditions, it is remarkable that a significant number reported negative elements after their abortions and that so many of those “denied” abortions seem to have positively adjusted to life with their babies.

Moreover, let’s say there is some academic value in determining how a unique set of abortion-minded women seeking late abortions fared after not getting the abortions they were hoping for. However, it is scientifically irresponsible to represent these results as a representative random sample of women and what might be their reactions to either having or not having an abortion.

Even Kathleen Geier, a generally sympathetic reviewer for the Washington Monthly (11/19/12), raised possible problems.  While repeating that researchers said there were no noticeable differences between the control (those who had abortion) and the experimental  groups(those who were turned away), Geier expressed concern that there could have been significant differences between the groups.

“Women who are unable to organize themselves to get abortion before it’s too late may be suffering from more financial or emotional problems than those who get one on time.

“It’s also possible that they may feel more ambivalent about their decision to abort in the first place. If any of these differences exist at the outset, then the worse outcomes for the women who were denied abortions could be due to those pre-existing factors, and not the denial of abortion in and of itself.”

Furthermore, nothing in what we see presented thus far by the UCSF researchers tells us how much either the women having abortions or “turned away” from the abortions were told about their unborn child’s development; how many were given sonograms where they could see their child; and/or how many were told about alternatives to abortion and offered practical, personal help in dealing with whatever challenges their situations presented.   Perhaps some of those women were directed to assistance after being “denied” their abortions, but we can’t be sure.

We know that such positive, practical, personal assistance is available from pregnancy care centers all over the country. However that sort of help and that sort of attitude is rarely found at the abortion clinic, where these women were encountered.

The whole focus on the “denial” of abortion–being “turned away” from the clinic–already sets up the issue in such a way that abortion is considered the benefit, the positive, sought for outcome. By contrast the continuation of the pregnancy and subsequent birth of the child is framed as a negative, nearly punitive outcome.  With that as the attitude of the researchers going in, and the institutional stance of those performing the abortions, it is a wonder that any of the “turnaways” at all saw her outcome in a positive light.

Yet many did! Within a week after their “denial,” even before the baby was actually born, 35% of those women were no longer willing to say that having the abortion would have been the right decision. After the birth, we know that 86% were living with the baby [1]; 59% perceived their relationships as good or very good ; and nearly half (48%) had full-time jobs.

This is remarkable, given that this was a younger, poorer demographic.

They still had some of the problems they had before seeking the abortion, but so did many of those who had the abortions.  One cannot help but think that if these busybodies quit peddling abortion as the “solution” to these women’s problems and focused their energies on actually helping them and their children, a lot more of these problems would get addressed.

It appears never to have occurred to the researchers that not having abortions would be a good thing.  Something bigger than economics, birth vs. abortion recovery times, or anxiety rankings is involved.  Every abortion averted means a baby given a chance to live, to grow, to love, to be creative, productive, innovative, and yes, even to pay taxes and help care for parents.

The tragedy is not those “turned away” from the abortion clinic, but those turned away from the value of every human life.

[1] Eleven percent were adopted, and the study does not say what happened to the remaining 3%]

The four previous parts to this series can be found at
and www.nationalrighttolifenews.org/news/2013/01/takeaways-from-the-ucsf-abortion-turnaway-study-4/#more-20951

Sources of Information on the UCSF “Turnaway” Study:

“Turnaway Study,” report of the UCSF group doing the study, Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health website, at www.ansirh.org/research/turnaway.php , accessed 11/29/12.

Summaries of UCSF research team presentations on “Turnaway” study at American Public Health Association 140th annual meeting and expo, San Francisco, CA, October 27-31, 2012, apha.confex.com/apha/140am/webprogram/Session36974.html and    apha.confex.com/apha/140am/webprogram/Session36913.html, accessed 11/13/12


Chelsea Garcia is a political writer with a special interest in international relations and social issues. Events surrounding the war in Ukraine and the war in Israel are a major focus for political journalists. But as a former local reporter, she is also interested in national politics.

Chelsea Garcia studied media, communication and political science in Texas, USA, and learned the journalistic trade during an internship at a daily newspaper. In addition to her political writing, she is pursuing a master's degree in multimedia and writing at Texas.

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